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Fantastic February defies the forecast

March 01, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

With Friday's warm temperatures and a forecast for a 70-degree Sunday, the Tri-State area continues to enjoy a remarkable run of mild weather - especially compared to last year.

In 1996, blizzards, floods and assorted weather calamities shattered records. But so far this year, Mother Nature appears to be taking a break from her nasty streak.

This year, records of a different kind are being set. Thursday's high of 81 missed by just one degree the hottest February day ever in Hagerstown, according to weather observer Greg Keefer.

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And Friday's high of 60 helped February move into a tie for fifth warmest on record at 39.4 degrees, tied with 1984.

One forecaster missed the boat on February. William O'Toole, the prognosticator for the Hagers-Town Town and County Almanack, had predicted that February would be the worst month of the year.

"Warn people about February," he had said. "That will be a good time to be in Florida or the Bahamas." O'Toole also had predicted 61 inches of snow this winter.

O'Toole couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

Animals have had better luck predicting the weather so far this year. Woolly bears forecasted a very mild second half of winter with little snow - and Punxsutawney Phil, the prognosticating groundhog, failed to see his shadow Feb. 2, promising an early spring.

"I think people are going to be really disappointed when winter moves back in after all this," Keefer said.

Sunday high temperatures could challenge March 2's record high of 75 degrees set in 1991, Keefer said.

Not only has this February been mild, it's also been dry, with just 1.67 inches of precipitation. This season, 14.1 inches of snow has fallen, compared to 66.5 inches by this time last year. The average is 24.8 inches.

The mild weather has helped farmers, said Washington County Extension Agent Don Schwartz. Without snow on the ground, farmers have been able to apply fertilizer to their fields. And because cattle can eat grass, farmers don't need to buy as much feed.

Dairy farmers also have been able to empty out manure storage areas that were getting full, Schwartz said.

The warm weather also hasn't yet endangered the peach crop, which can be susceptible to damage if long warm spells trigger early blooms, followed by a hard frost. "A lot of it is still going to depend on what happens when the buds bloom in April," Schwartz said. "Heaven only knows at this point."

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